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 Post subject: "America's Great Debate"
PostPosted: Fri Feb 26, 2021 9:29 pm 
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"America's Great Debate - Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise that Preserved the Union", by Fergus M. Bordewich.

I enjoy reading about events leading up to the American Civil War. I've read a couple of books about the Mexican War, and how it served as the training ground for many young officers who would go on to become battlefield leaders in the Civil War. This book focuses not on the military, but on political actions during the year 1850. It not only gives an overview of the politics, but introduces many of the politicians who ended up in leadership positions during the Civil War, both as battlefield leaders and as political leaders of the two sides.

As a result of the Mexican War, the United States acquired a vast amount of territory - basically, everything between the Louisiana Purchase and the Pacific Ocean. How should this new territory be governed? Specifically, should slavery be allowed, or forbidden?

The major issues:

1) The Mexican War ended in 1848. The very next year gold was discovered in California, ushering in the Gold Rush. California was busting at the seams (and white men were coming in in droves, pushing aside Mexicans and Indians who had lived there for decades), and desired to become a state. Should the Missouri Compromise line of 1820 be extended, with slavery excluded above the line? Or should states themselves be allowed to determine whether or not slavery should be allowed? Should California be admitted as a single state, or split into two or more states?

2) The western boundary of Texas had never been established. The state claimed much of what is now New Mexico, including Santa Fe and most of the other populated areas - and was ready to raise an army (of desperados, former Texas Rangers, etc.) to take it from the federal government.

3) Strengthening the Fugitive Slave Act (forcing citizens of northern states to aide federal agents in capturing runaway slaves).

4) Eliminating the Slave Trade (although not slavery itself) within the District of Columbia.

The debate got so heated at one point that Senator Henry Foote, of Mississippi, drew a pistol on Senator Thomas H. Benton, of Missouri - on the Senate floor! (Foote claimed self-defense, since the much larger Benton was charging at him. Foote was eventually exonerated of wrong-doing.)

There was even an overview of the failed attempt to invade Cuba in 1850 by southerners. (Their goal, of course, was to have Cuba become a slave state in the U.S.)

I found this book especially interesting not only because it dealt with events leading up to the Civil War and described the early years of some who became leaders on both sides, but because it dealt with parliamentary procedure and the rules of the Senate and House. There was just enough discussion of "splitting the motion" and "calling the question" - and their ramifications during the debate - to be thrilling to a geek like me. :)

The biggest problem I had with the book was that it came across as too academic, too dry. But the author often quoted from speeches of the day, which did tend to be long, adding to the length and complexity of his sentences. Also, I took issue with the subtitle, "... the Compromise that Preserved the Union". I can't say that the compromise 'preserved' the Union, as much as it delayed the Civil War by a decade. :(

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 27, 2021 11:38 pm 
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An interesting political time.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2021 8:21 pm 
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The best all around pre-Civil War book I read is "The Impending Crisis: 1848 - 1861" by David M. Potter. Published back in 1976 the book still holds up well (I think) and gives you a thorough overview of what caused the Civil War in the decade leading up to 1861.

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